Citizen scientists discover five super-Earth exoplanets using Kepler data

The citizen scientists have discovered a new star system that is orbited by five planets. This discovery of five new exoplanets by citizen scientists has been confirmed by the scientists of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US as well as the CALTECH in Pasadena. The five exoplanets are orbiting a far-off sun-like star called K2-138 which is situated almost 620 light years away from Earth in the constellation Aquarius.

As per the data collected by NASA’s Kepler telescope, these five planets are called as super-Earth as their sizes range between 1.6 and 3.3 times the radius of Earth. All these five planets are orbiting their parent star in a resonance chain, which is unique. Since 2009, the Kepler telescope under the K2 mission is looking at sun-like star systems beyond our solar system that harbor Earth-like planets. A research team led by Dr. Jesse Christiansen, from Caltech in Pasadena, carried out the latest research whose results were revealed at the 231st American Astronomical Society meeting in National Harbour.

According to the researchers, the citizen scientists across the world contributed immensely to the discovery of the five super-Earth exoplanets. The research team carried out their project dubbed Exoplanet Explorers through Zooniverse, a popular online citizen-scientist platform. Dr. Christina formed that People from anywhere across the globe can log on and learn what real signals coming from exoplanet look like, and then look through actual data collected from the Kepler telescope to vote on whether or not to classify a given signal as a transit, or just noise.

At first, the researchers ran a signal-detection algorithm to spot potential transit signals in the K2 data, and after that, they made those signals available for users on the Zooniverse platform. What the users had to do is to determine whether a signal is a planetary transit or not. The users could see the actual light curves collected by the K2 mission. If they thought the curve looked like a transit, they clicked ‘Yes’ and if not then they clicked ‘No’. For the signals to get confirmed for further analysis by researchers, at least ten users should look at a potential signal and then ninety percent of users should have to vote ‘yes’ for that signal.

Ian Crossfield, assistant professor of physics at MIT, said, “We put all this data online and said to the public, ‘Help us find some planets’.” According to him, the project was exciting as they got the public excited about science and it really leveraged the power of the human cloud. In 2016, it was announced that four planets are orbiting the K2-138 star. But Dr. Christian was confident that there are some more planets orbiting the distant sun-like star. So, he intensified his research and discovered the fifth planet through citizen scientists.

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